This holiday season, there will be an awful lot of talk about wish lists—of wants, of the need for what’s new, what’s next. But any of us who are familiar with the mere minutes it takes to tear off the wrapping paper—or tear through the holiday meal can tell you: the reward is almost never as good as the anticipation.
We, as marketers, are no different. We’re built to seek—not to be sated. Evolution long ago weeded out the creatures who were too easily made fat and happy and were literally eaten alive by the competition.
This fear of failing, of falling behind, is perhaps most obvious in modern life in our relationship with technology. The fear drives us mad in our own search for what little gift might be hiding—not under a tree or by a chimney, but in our inbox, inside our smartphone, our gadgets doling out small, addictive rewards in such inconsequential and unpredictable bites that we’re starving for the possibility of real satisfaction at the end of the next Google deep dive. (In fact, Facebook and Google are now facing down the ethical dilemma of being willing “dealers,” giving us our much-needed fixes.)
We’ve convinced ourselves that we’re staying on the bleeding edge of information and technology. But are we? Even though the platforms have changed, aren’t we just as stuck now with Oculus Rift and Pokemon Go! as we were when “you’ve got mail” or the CrackBerry light would put our restraint to the test? Aren’t we just as starved for validation, for inclusion, for reward as we were as children—unable to sleep at the prospect of ultimate happiness being delivered in one magical, snow-covered evening?
The truth? We’re all seeking reward through the next swipe on our phone or the next challenge at work. Yes. We’re all addicted. Addicted to dopamine, the chemical stimulant which feeds our brain every time we activate this state of eagerness, of seeking. Our brains are actually programmed to be faster to the stimulation than satisfaction.
Yes, it’s true: we’re wired to be let down, to be disappointed.
That’s what has me asking myself, my agency and my clients one big question as we head into the holiday season, and the New Year: are we selling the ephemeral thrill of the promise—or the real satisfying reward of the proof? How can we all stay as excited about the partners we have—as we are about the shiny, new objects right around the RFP corner? Can we commit to being (on the day after—and even 10, 20, 50 years after)—the partners we promised to be before the wrapping paper got pulled away?
Let’s remember that real growth, real rewards rarely come from searching for what’s new—but by truly immersing in what’s now. This holiday season, let’s commit to being there for those who have committed to being with us.
And though it may seem like strange advice for one agency leader to offer to others, here it goes: just as you hold your family close this holiday, hold your clients tight. Remember how high they were on your wish list. Be the gift they need, the reward they so rarely receive.
Because when we’re all —clients and agencies alike—more easily stimulated than satisfied, being present … is the greatest gift.
Steve Mooney is executive vice president, managing director for Jack Morton Worldwide Boston. He can be reached at Steve_Mooney@jackmorton.com.